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The joys of jellyfish. August 7, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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“When was the last time you thought about jellyfish?” So begins an article, “Balletic Flowers of the Sea,” by Joel Henning in The Wall Street Journal (check it out at www.wsj.com). Our friend Ben would have to respond, within the hour. And not because of the article, either.

I’ve been interested in jellyfish since I first heard about them as an infant, and have been mildly obsessed by them since I was on our annual family summer vacation in Pensacola, Florida, at age six, and enountered a Portuguese Man o’ War on the beach. I’d been told that the sting of one of these jellyfish could result in an agonizing death. Gee! I just had to find out for myself. (Perhaps this early incident explains why our friend Ben has still not managed to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, despite years of ardent hinting and hoping.) Sticking my bare foot tentatively into the jellyfish, the youthful Ben waited to feel the sting. And waited. Nothing. Mind you, this might have been because the unfortunate jellyfish was already dead, or simply because it was beached topside up so I didn’t actually encounter any tentacles during my unsuccessful probe.

You might think this failure to endure an agonizing death would have turned our friend Ben off jellyfish, but not so. I have remained fascinated by them throughout life, examining them with obsessive interest whenever I’m fortunate enough to be on a beach where one has washed up, grateful to have the opportunity to observe it, but sad that its life most probably will end stranded just feet from its ocean habitat.

My interest in all things jellyfish multiplied exponentially after an ultraviolet encounter with some at the North Carolina Aquarium in Beaufort, NC. Watching the various species drift by, ghostlike, tattered shrouds trailing, illuminated like stars, in the night of the surrounding water, made an indelible impression. Their exotic beauty struck our friend Ben dumb, which, as Silence Dogood rightly points out, is perhaps the first and last time that will ever happen.

Returning to The Wall Street Journal article, which focuses on an exhibit of jellyfish at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, continuing through May, 2012. Our friend Ben has visited the Shedd Aquarium and it is fantastic; even without jellyfish, well worth a trip. But check out some jellyfish trivia from the article and you may want to visist the Shedd (or the North Carolina Aquarium, for that matter) for the jellyfish alone: 

* Jellyfish can range in size from a contact lens to a bus.

* Jellyfish, described by the article as “living lava lamps,” are among Earth’s oldest creatures, having floated in our oceans for hundreds of millions of years, preceding fish, insects, and dinosaurs.

* Some jellyfish can double their weight in a day. (Thank heavens humans can’t duplicate that feat, the battle of the bulge is bad enough as it is!)

* The world’s largest jellyfish, the lion’s mane, with a bell (as its top is called) 8 feet wide and tentacles 100 feet long, even features in a Sherlock Holmes adventure.

I suggest that you refrain from sticking your foot into a jellyfish, should you enounter one. (You may not be as lucky as our friend Ben.) But you should definitely check them out at a beach or an aquarium near you!

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